Letter VC Koen Lamberts 24/05/2024

The below email was sent to VC Koen Lamberts on Friday 24th May.

Dear Professor Lamberts,

I am writing with regard to several serious issues raised by staff at the University. Over recent months, we have expressed concerns in negotiations with Human Resources regarding the University’s continued affiliation with Rabbi Zecharia Deutsch. Rabbi Deutsch has produced public materials in relation to the ongoing violent conflict in Gaza. We believe the content of these materials is at odds with the stated values of the University of Sheffield, including the objectives of the Belief, No Belief, and Religious Life Centre, and principles outlined in the Staff and Student Codes of Conduct.

It has been particularly disappointing to be told in negotiations that the University does not intend to discuss our concerns because the BNBR Centre is not considered to be part of the terms and conditions of staff employment at this University. This position sidelines the important role of the Centre as a source of support for the entire University community, including staff, and overlooks the fact that the Centre is itself a place of work for employees who we represent and who deserve to feel safe.

At our most recent General Meeting, members brought a motion which passed without opposition, which I have linked to here. Staff, as well as students, from a wide range of faith backgrounds, are expressing risks to their wellbeing and sense of safety that are posed by Rabbi Deutsch’s continued presence at the University, and the incompatibility of this with our commitment to religious tolerance and non-violence. In the interests of promoting safety, inclusivity, and opposing all forms of intolerance, we are calling on the University to reconsider its affiliation with Rabbi Deutsch.

We also query the University of Sheffield management’s lack of meaningful engagement with the student and staff members who are currently taking part in and supporting the encampment on the SU Concourse. These members of our University community are taking part in protest over a critical and ongoing humanitarian crisis which our University cannot and should not ignore, as well as our relationship to the military industrial complex both in general and in relation to this conflict.

The management of other Universities, including at Goldsmiths, University of London and many in other countries, have taken a more productive and proactive approach to encampments on their campus, and have reached agreements that directly address the issues raised by protestors. In contrast, the management of this University does not seem to have met at all with those engaged in protest over extreme and ongoing violence, although I would welcome correction on this point if meetings have occurred that I am not aware of.

While your recent email to staff clarified the legal standing of our University’s research programmes and emphasised a commitment to transparency, it did not itself offer transparency on the university’s investments, nor did it seem to address the key ethical and moral issues that are currently being raised by staff and students. This email explicitly asserts the rights of academic staff (under the aegis of academic freedom of speech) to conduct research on “any subject within the law”: in particular, without any requirements as to ethics or propriety. This assertion seems incompatible with agreements to which the university is a signatory (including but not limited to the Universities UK Concordat to Support Research Integrity), as well as with disciplinary or regulatory codes for research ethics. Academic activity is governed by ethical codes, regardless of whether it is technically within the law; so too should be the university’s provision of staff- and student-facing services.

We are additionally alarmed by the all-staff email of 14 May on the topic of the encampment, which reminded readers not of the reason for the protest, but rather provided information on how to report harassment and bullying, while downplaying the ongoing genocide as ‘a situation’.

We would welcome the chance to speak with you regarding these issues as representatives of staff at the University of Sheffield, but with greater urgency, would prefer that you engage meaningfully with our staff and students who are supporting the encampment and have founded Sheffield Campus Coalition for Palestine, to discuss and address the foundational issues they have raised about the priorities, goals, and future vision of this University.

I look forward to your response.


Robyn Orfitelli

Sheffield UCU Branch President

Response from Ian Wright 30th May 2024

From: Ian Wright
Date: Thu, 30 May 2024 at 15:06
Subject: Re: Concerns regarding recent University positions
To: Ucu Trade Union Account

Dear Robyn

The Vice-Chancellor has forwarded me your email and asked me to respond.

The University seeks to support its community of students and staff irrespective of their beliefs, religion or views. We aim to provide an environment on our campus where all can feel safe and welcomed. We know that this can sometimes be difficult when people’s views and values are challenged.

We also have a duty to uphold freedom of speech within the law. It is recognised that sometimes people will have different opinions and will potentially find the views of others to be disagreeable or offensive. We encourage debate with tolerance, openness and respect to avoid the risk of conflict. We do not tolerate discrimination, harassment, bullying, Islamophobia, anti-semitism or any other form of racism or religious hatred.

As you know, Rabbi Deutsch is not a member of staff of the University. We continue to engage with his employers, the University Jewish Chaplaincy, to ensure that appropriate support can be provided to those students who wish to access their offering. Whilst Rabbi Deutsch has not been present on our campus since he returned from Israel earlier this year, we also signpost our Jewish students to two other local faith advisers – one Jewish Chaplain and one Jewish Adviser from different denominations of Judaism.

We also provide appropriate support for students of other religions or beliefs and those who do not follow a religion or belief.

You will be aware that the provision of chaplaincy support to our students, and who provides that support (particularly where they are not an employee of the University) are not matters that fall within the scope of our agreed trade union recognition agreement. It is therefore not something we would negotiate or consult with the Trade Union body on.

In relation to the protest, you are aware that the Vice-Chancellor recently wrote to all staff regarding the issues relating to our ongoing work with a number of external partners and that remains the University position.

The University respects the right of its students to engage in peaceful protest. Our actions have been focused on facilitating this and supporting the safety of those who are protesting, as well as those who are not.

The University’s Israel Gaza conflict webpage (hyperlink), contains a range of information, support and guidance for staff and students affected by the conflict. Please feel free to share this with any members who have concerns or queries regarding the conflict, the protests currently on campus and the University’s position and how we are supporting people from across our community.


Ian Wright
Director of Human Resources
The University of Sheffield